Soccer vs. Xavier

Jaida Thomas (2) runs after the ball against Xavier University in Regal Stadium on Feb. 28, 2021.

Tennessee took to the field for the first time this season for an exhibition against Alabama at home. The game ended in a tie, 0-0.

Although the game today was just an exhibition, the team knew going into it that it meant more.

“Our kids wanted to win this game today,” head coach Brian Pensky said. “Even though it meant nothing in the bigger picture it meant a lot to their hearts, and they played that way.”

Not only does Pensky respect Alabama as an SEC opponent, he also is close friends with Alabama head coach Wes Hart. This friendship and mutual respect leads to the two teams always making a point to play each other.

“Something we try to do every year we don’t play them, we either play them in the spring or we play them in a preseason game,” Pensky said. “I think in the last three or four years this is the third or fourth time we’ve played them in an exhibition. You always know it’s someone who’s going to do something to cause some problems and make you uncomfortable a little bit and the question is can you deal with that or not.”

The Lady Vols controlled the game for the full 90 minutes, keeping possession for most of the game and leading Alabama in shots attempted, 17-3.

“We were great at attacking together as a team,” sophomore forward Jaida Thomas said. “We were great at transition; we were great at pressing them. I think if we keep being consistent in that then we’ll keep getting opportunities from it.”

Thomas led the Lady Vols in attempted shots, with five. Three of Thomas’s shots were on goal. Lawson Renie and Lindsey Brick had two shot attempts each. Both of Brick’s shots were on goal and one of Renie’s was as well.

Despite the tie, Pensky saw some upside from his team in its first appearance of the season.

“I think we’re a pretty athletic team, I think our fitness is at a pretty good place, I thought our energy was awesome, the energy from our bench was also awesome,” Pensky said. “One thing we talked about was being good in transition. If we lose the ball, how quickly can we get pressure on them. Alabama is typically a really good possession-oriented team and we didn’t want to let them get into that rhythm and I thought for the most part we did pretty well with that.”

Tennessee’s freshmen also got their first opportunity to play, against an SEC opponent, nonetheless.

“We’ll continue to work on our finishing and what we do in front of the goal,” Pensky said. “But in terms of getting some kids their first time and opportunity in an SEC game, to get a taste of this level and this speed is great for our kids.”

One adjustment Tennessee had to make this season compared to last was a shorter preseason. Despite less time to prepare, Thomas saw the team’s chemistry already coming together.

“We have a lot of new players but I thought we did really well at working together with chemistry throughout these past two weeks,” Thomas said. “I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

Tennessee will play its first official game next Thursday against Florida Gulf Coast University at Regal Soccer Stadium at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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